It’s a weird thing to tell another man that he made you cry. No matter the scenario, it’s even stranger when you tell a group of men they all made you cry.
To tell the story to a bunch of faceless strangers, not so hard:
On October 20, 2006 Everything Absent or Distorted (EAOD) played a show at the Oriental Theater. I invited a friend. He was not easily impressed with anything, ever. If you’re like my friend and had never seen EAOD: they were eight in number, horns and guitars and keys and trading instruments the whole time. They were like a great inert iron train up and down a track of mountain valleys and gigantic peaks: sparking, bursting, gliding. They were dynamic, beautiful, loud and something unnamable. EAOD was a thing of controlled and unbounding emotion. My friend was not.
I was nearly drunk by the time EAOD began to churn out onto the track, under the red lights. The set was rollicking along, building momentum, then Bryce Merrill walked to the edge of the stage, in front of the monitors and hollered, “You are having the time of your life!” Immediately, my heart stalled. Merrill went back into the stage, nearly back into formation. Dazed, he came back out again, this time screaming, enunciating, “You are having the time of your life!”
I was shaken. Tears were rolling down my face. I know, I was thinking the same thing: men don’t cry at rock ‘n roll shows. But even my friend seemed confused in that marrow soup kind of way. In the seat next to me, I saw him watching me. I didn’t look over to reciprocate this shared thing – not out of embarrassment, but because I didn’t want to miss the next thing on that stage. To this day, I don’t know if my friend was impressed or not, and I never felt the need to ask.
These are the reasons why I listen and watch live music. It’s because of these things.
When EAOD broke up three years later, I wasn’t disappointed. I knew that there wasn’t anything else they could give me. In fact, I felt embarrassed to ask for anything more. I was at peace with their exit. I loved their last album, but didn’t go to their final show. They’d given me enough three years earlier, almost ruining what it was I could be given from another band, at any other show.
Four years later and they’ve resurfaced. This time it’s only the core three songwriters (John Kuker, Bryce Merrill, Trebor Trumble) from EAOD teaming up with Georgina Guidotti from Rabbit is a Sphere and Brigid McAuliffe, Bryce Merrill’s multitalented wife, from Bela Karoli. Between the three bands the story was much the same: people were getting older, it was time to move on, life was pulling some members in different geographical directions, new professional horizons. Ending those musical projects was the only way to create space for new offspring.
What Somerset Catalog means, I have no idea. It looks pretty though. And, they sound pretty: it’s the kind of symphony I’d expect from the three EAOD boys with Guidotti's driving rhythm lines. This time they have new ammunition – two girls complementing the sweaty boys, on the rhythm end and on the melodic, vocal end. As they told me, they’re balanced, “Just the right mix. Like a nice mint julep or coffee with cream and crank.”
In them is that core spirit, that one I remember on the raucous EAOD stages: full of sweaty bodies – facetious at times, humbled by their actions at other turns. They were men with heads in the stars, truly in space but impossibly connecting with everybody in the room. It had to be exhausting – aiming for the stars like that, all the time and, moreover: succeeding so much of the time. Maybe this Somerset project is a meditation on keeping it light, on fighting the good fight.
And yes, to talk about this project: you are forced to talk about their histories. This doesn’t just come from nowhere. It’s alive, from years of pruning and sheering. Personal gardening.
As a knowledgeable listener of all their previous bands I will give you one last series of vignettes – what this project means to me. It took me awhile, but I dug, because I knew what the montage felt like: it’s about the late eighties, near the end of my childhood. Their sound is something about a blend of “Less Than Zero” and “Dream a Little Dream”. My late eighties new wave and my early nineties alt rock. It was about an existential struggle. Listening to this makes me feel cooler in that casual California kind of way that I was so desperate for in my late eighties life. This is the sound of that: playful and profound but dark and cavernous if you really open it up over bottles of whiskey.
I’m still not sure if I should tell them that they made me cry. But I think I already have and, it’s OK because they say things like this, too:
“All EAOD ever wanted was to get together and drink mid-priced Scotch or cheap lager and make inappropriate jokes and create something and fight bare-knuckle bloody against the night-terrors of contentment and mediocrity. We did that and a bit more.”
God, I’m glad these guys and girls are back.